It was 20 years ago, April 30th 1993, that Tim Berners-Lee and the CERN Institute released the code for the World Wide Web. A week before, on April 22, the MOSAIC browser was released as version 1.
I remember that week.
I spend most of my time then in the basement of the Electronic Engineering faculty where I was studying. Our student association had its offices there, well away from any daylight. We ran a number of computers there, and since ’89 had the first non-university local Ethernet network on campus running between them, which a bit later got hooked up to the internet. I remember voting in favor of spending 2500 Dutch guilders on the wiring and three ethernet cards to make it possible.
One of my fellow students came in all excited, and installed this thing called ‘browser’. With a few people we gathered around the screen, and saw something like this.
I was unimpressed.
Why was this Web important? So MOSAIC could use inline images. Nice. So CERN had published the code for the Web. Ok. But I didn’t get it. Already for a few years I had been active online on a daily basis from that faculty basement. Using command line statements for remote access and Gopher menus I was perfectly capable of navigating the internet, thank you very much. So to me this World Wide Web that made it possible to jump from document to document, instead of from server to server, didn’t seem all that big an improvement in the information I had available at my finger tips. And who needed inline images anyway?
Even as a kid in primary school, however, I have always been fascinated by how everything was and could be connected to everything. If only you could see it, or had the tools to do it. Since I was 9 or 10, I was into short wave and ham radio because of it, and always ‘playing detective’ to find the hidden connections between people and things that happened (of which I kept stacks of notebooks). Internet made my perception that everything was connected true and tangible and above all global.
Only slowly did it dawn on me that what CERN / Tim Berners Lee and NCSA did, by releasing the WWW code and the first graphical browser, was making it possible for everyone to see and build the web. And not just the geeky types like me in the basement of tech faculties. Only slowly did it dawn on me that, by adding the web to internet, they had opened up my life long fascination with how everything was connected, if only you had the tools to see it and do it, to everybody else on the planet.